The Safest Place
Of a risky choice and an epiphany.
I don’t ride the bus much. So it was news to me, when I showed up at 2:00am at a bus stop after a late night hang out session with friends, that a bus wouldn’t be coming to take me home until approximately 4:30am. Call it naiveté, call it what you will, that particular night, still a little drunk and very much confounded by the bus schedule, I sat stubbornly kicking my feet on the bench at a downtown bus stop. I was characteristically intent on self reliance and therefore dead-set on waiting it out until 4:30. The problem was exactly that though, that I was a slightly drunk, confounded girl, alone at a downtown bus stop at 2:00am.
As my whirling semi-frantic thoughts came to a resigned, slow swirl stop, I looked around at where exactly I was to be stuck. It was not nice downtown. Around me blinked the lights of huge, vacant, would-be open buildings which were, at this hour, very much closed. I took slight consolation in the fact that since the bus stop was a downtown one, were I to be murdered, there might be a security camera situated somewhere to maybe catch part of it on tape for my mom to identify me. I brushed this thought from mind and focused my attention on some movement I caught sight of across the street. Whatever had moved now approached and under the streetlight I caught sight of a guy dressed in heavy black clothes walking towards me. He walked slowly, and something about his stride did not strike me as alarming in the slightest. From a good distance away he spoke, his intonation dreary,
“Can you spare any bills?” he called across the street.
Now given my predicament, this was the last thing I expected to come from his mouth. I was nervously bracing myself for a “what’s a pretty young thing like you doing out here alone?” When I wasn’t met with this I was cautiously put at ease.
“Yeah I think I’ve got some ones here!”
He plodded across the street and stood about ten feet away from me shifting, shoulders hunched, from foot to foot. I dug around in my purse for the change. In the new light I looked at his face and was surprised to recognize that he was young.
He suddenly looked and spoke up again, “I can get a burger for $2.00.”
I was still hung up on his age. This wasn’t some creepy old man come to attack me. This guy was profoundly hungry, and looked to be not much over 20 years old. This was a guy that reminded me of myself. So I handed him the bills and asked him, “How old are you? Sorry that’s all I’ve got for money, I know one cheeseburger’s rarely enough. Gosh, neither is two sometimes. And by the time you walk all the way to a restaurant… we’re not close to anything here!”
He replied directly to my question, “I’m 21.”
I was right, he was the same age as me.
“Dang, I’m 21 too, I really wish I had more money for you.” In my mind, there had been a hard shift and now all I thought of was this guy’s one-cheeseburger reality. Here was this guy, the same age as me! This guy faced the same dark street at the same hour with a problem vastly more vital than mine.
He stood there in front of me still. Swaying slightly in his big coat into which he’d stowed the money. As much as part of me wanted to be left alone back again to fend for myself, I also wanted to ask more.
“What’s your name?” I ventured.
“Oh! I’m Bailey,” I said, then gaining my usual conversational momentum, persisted, “do you live out here?”
“Whoa, how long’ve you been like this?” I asked, then worried and followed with, “… I mean if you don’t mind my asking, I don’t mean to assume…”
“No.” he cut my ramble short, “No it’s no thing. I got kicked out when I was 16.”
“Dangg.” I said as empathetically as I could muster as I truly felt terrible for him. We stood there in silence a few minutes longer.
Out of nowhere in our silence he started, “You know it’s kinda dangerous for you to be in this area right now alone.”
I did know. I knew full well, and inwardly thought how he could know of this danger one of two equally unideal ways, either firsthand or by a participation in the danger.
“Yeah I do know. I didn’t know the bus came less frequently at night though and now I’m stuck here. I wish there was some 24 hour business open but I don’t see anything. Unless that place over there is a Denny’s,” I pointed down the street, “the lights kind of look like it…”
“It’s not a Denny’s,” he said and continued, “I’m on my way to my safe spot. You can join if you want.”
Although I had in no way, shape or form been seeking his help in my situation, I had seen his offer coming. The offer spoken now though, I proceeded to assume a whole new level of situational paranoia. What had been a dangerous situation was now a decision between two potentially dangerous situations. Should I accompany him to his “safe spot”? Was he safe? Or should I stay where I was alone? Which was safer?
It took me, naturally, a minute to reply, “Sure, I just gotta be back here by 4:30.”
I had to trust my instincts, and they told me he was relatively safe. I pulled my phone from my pocket and checked it unnecessarily so that he saw I had it on the ready. I wanted him to know. He looked at it and looked away and started walking down the street.
“It’s this way,” he called back, and I stepped after to join him.
We didn’t talk much on the walk. He spoke only once, to ask me if I’d been drinking that evening, which jarred and frustrated me a little. Was I really that obvious? When I replied asking him this, he assured me I wasn’t but that he was very in tune with these things. I swore myself to absolute seriousness from then on.
We walked along the road awhile and when we neared a bridge he suddenly stepped off into the bushes and beckoned me to follow. I cautiously did so and following a steep scamper down a hill found we were, of all places, under the bridge we had been walking towards. I was instantly sobered in all senses of the word. There were several other people noticeably sleeping under tarps in the distance and the place struck me with cavernous, eery force.
“This is my safe place,” he said, and gestured around us at the dark expanse of littered, underside-of-bridge columns.
I don’t know what I expected his safe place to be- looking back, I probably should have expected it, but in that moment I was absolutely consumed with awe and surprise and pity and feeling.
I ended up making it home that morning but the night profoundly affected me. It took what was, in my paradigm, a dire situation, to instill in me the complete happenstance that is each individual person’s life. What is one person’s safe place, is one person’s most arguably dangerous of options of places to venture. It’s only a bridge that divides, and now I never mistake the two sides for anything but top and bottom.